What's so enticing about Blue Jasmine is how complete a film it is. Woody Allen's latest feature systematically breaks down a single character and their dramatic history step by step. Actress Cate Blanchett anchors the film with a hard driving, fearless performance. Her character, the titular Jasmine, teeters on the edge of being a wholly destructive force to herself and everyone around her. Allen balances his trademark comedy with enough manic theatrical energy to tell a story of sisters wrapped in themes of class struggle.
Sally Hawkins grounds the film as Jasmine's long suffering sister, Ginger, who dates a string of endless losers, one after another. We see her patterns with men and her eagerness to please her more glamourous sister. The first of these men is played by comedian Andrew Dice Clay as her gruff ex-husband who delivers a surprisingly effective, understated performance. He serves somewhat as the voice of reason and has a natural charisma and earnestness on screen. This is contrasted with Bobby Cannavale's fiery, hot tempered boyfriend character and Louis C.K.'s meek yet sweet philanderer. We see the sisters paralleled with opposing yet interconnected behaviour highlighted by the men they attract.
Allen's writing offers so many moments for his actors to shine. Take Alec Baldwin as Jasmine's duplicitious ex-husband Hal. He only ever exists in flashbacks and in the memory of other characters as somewhat of a mysterious, unknowable figure in the mould of a handsome Bernie Madoff figurehead. However, Baldwin through Allen's sharp direction injects just enough charm and reverence for the audience to get a subtle, intriguing portrait of the man who broke Jasmine. All the characters, particularly the men for a change, seem superficial or one note at first, but are revealed to be much more sensitive and fully rendered as the story unfolds.
Cinematographer Javier Aguirresarobe revels in framing the bright, lush San Francisco scenery strarkly contrasted with the Park Avenue streets of New York City during Jasmine's better times, living the high life. The world around her is so bright, cheery, and beautiful as she slowly crumbles.
Dark and depressing yet watchable and dynamic, Blue Jasmine is Allen's most engaging film in recent memory. It's grim tone and dramatic spin on A Streetcar Named Desire is tightly balanced with contemporary issues and classic themes of class and wealth. Its cast shines as Allen's actors reveal some compelling character portraits to make for a dramatically thrilling film.
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